CHICAGO HEIGHTS | Slow and steady hasn't yet won the race, but it's helped Noah Brim place himself among the leaders several times this season.
The Marian Catholic junior is definitely not slow afoot, but that adjective describes the way Spartans cross country coach Tim Sovereign brought his runner along in 2010. Since his squad was blessed with decent roster depth, Sovereign elected to let Brim acclimate to the sport by participating in lower-level races.
"I think he enjoyed some of the success you can have on the frosh-soph level, going out there and getting the medals," Sovereign said.
Some athletes might have chafed at not getting a chance to shine on a bigger stage right away, but Brim — who only began running competitively a short time before enrolling at Marian — agreed that Sovereign's decision was a sound one.
"I would have been completely mortified starting off the (previous) year on varsity," Brim said. "I think it was really good to kind of run without the pressure of having to do varsity. I could experiment with how I needed to run my race — how fast should I go out and how should I maintain my pace?
"I definitely felt way more confident in my abilities and what I needed to do (after that)."
Sovereign had Brim run in last season's varsity regional, with the idea that it would springboard him into 2011. In between, the veteran coach also persuaded Brim to give track a try.
"I wouldn't have even done it without my coach bending my arm backwards," Brim joked. "I think the whole mindset was, 'I just got done with cross country, and you want me to run again?'
"It was definitely a big change, but it did help a lot. It helped my overall speed and kept me in shape for the next (cross country) season."
That would be the current one, which featured Brim taking fifth at last Saturday's Class 2A Illiana Christian Regional at North Creek Meadow. His time of 17 minutes, 30 seconds was off the personal-best 16:43 effort Brim turned in at the East Suburban Catholic Conference meet one week earlier, but Sovereign still felt Brim ran a good regional race.
"I was pretty confident he could come in among the top 10, but I just wasn't sure where," Sovereign said. "Two meets in a row, (the) Rich Central (Invitational) and conference, Noah missed a medal by one spot. At regional, it looked like it was going to happen again, but Matt Lamb came up and started pushing him, and Noah got back into fifth."
"If you asked him, he'd probably call himself my running muse — the mentor behind the runner," Brim joked of Lamb, who finished two spots in back of him at the regional. "Matt's a good teammate. He's always pushing the entire team to get better."
That team is smaller this season, numbering only 16 boys. Brim and Sovereign knew coming into the year that the former would have to play a key role, and neither party has been disappointed.
"I wanted him to be one of my top varsity runners," Sovereign said, "and he basically has been."
The only blip on the radar occurred on a humid day at Hinsdale Central, when Brim's time rose to more than 18 minutes.
"After a race like that, you definitely feel down in the dumps," Brim said. "(But) knowing I could do better — and knowing my teammates were counting on me to do that — kept me from thinking about it too much.
"I started to take things more seriously (this season), and I'm pretty proud of what I've accomplished."